Following a radical Supreme Court term that has had a devastating impact on abortion access, the separation of church and state, immigrants’ rights, privacy, and more, it’s easy to feel powerless. But we can still fight for our rights — starting in our communities, at the ballot box. We have the power to send a message to elected officials about what we value and what we want them to prioritize. Your vote can send a clear message to lawmakers and elected officials that they need to take bold action to stem the tide of attacks on abortion, and protect access to essential care — just as Kansas voters recently did when they defeated a measure that would have stripped the right to abortion from their state constitution.
Trust in American institutions has dramatically decreased in recent years, according to recent polling. Americans are losing confidence in the Supreme Court, politicians, and the media. But people still trust their family, friends, and neighbors.
That’s why your vote is so important this year, and why the ACLU wants to arm you with the knowledge you need to talk to your friends and family about the issues that matter. With just a conversation, you can use your existing networks to mobilize and activate your community.
Here, we break down some of the elected offices you may see on your ballot, so you can better understand how these officials wield the power to protect civil liberties and civil rights. Whether it’s for a district attorney election in your county or a supreme court judge race in your state, you have the power to change this country. This November, let’s remind our elected officials that they don’t have the final say when it comes to our rights — we do.
NC Senate and House of Representatives
The General Assembly has the power to pass state laws that affect all North Carolinians. While the Governor has the power to veto these laws, a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly can override that veto. It is vital that we elect legislators who will fight for our rights, including reproductive freedom, LGBTQ equality, and racial justice.
NC Supreme Court
The state supreme court is the state’s highest appellate court and has the power to uphold or strike down state laws and policies depending on their interpretation of the federal and state constitution. With Roe v. Wade overturned, state supreme courts are crucial for protecting our reproductive freedom. If the General Assembly passes abortion restrictions, the state supreme court may decide whether those laws stand.
NC Court of Appeals
The state court of appeals is a level below the supreme court and is the first level of appeal for superior court and some district court decisions. It has the power to uphold or strike down state laws and policies depending on its interpretation of the federal and state constitution.
NC Superior Court
Superior courts are the trial courts that hear civil and criminal cases, including constitutional challenges, felony cases and civil cases over $25,000. These courts also hear some appeals from district courts. Superior courts have the power to uphold or strike down state laws and policies depending on their interpretation of the federal and state constitution.
NC District Court
District courts hear family law matters, such as divorce and child support, as well as civil cases involving less than $25,000. They also hear misdemeanor criminal matters and some juvenile cases. District courts are the first place that most people charged with crimes appear, and they set or review bail, which often determines whether a person is held in jail until their day in court.
District attorneys are the most powerful actors in the criminal legal system because they have the power to decide who should be charged with a crime. To make change, they can: 1. Not bring charges against people accused of violating unjust laws like classroom censorship bills. 2. Decline to prosecute crimes that disproportionately impact marginalized communities, such as abortion bans or bills that discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
County sheriffs are the highest law enforcement officers in the county and can have a profound effect on the criminal justice system on a local level. They can decide how to enforce the law and who is impacted by it. In addition to enforcing criminal laws, sheriffs carry out evictions, set policies regarding collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and oversee the jail. Sheriffs have the power to enforce protections for women, immigrants, and the LGBTQ+ community, among others.
Board of Commissioners
County laws and policies that are not determined by other federal or state laws are determined by the Board of Commissioners. The board also has the power to decide how to implement state and federal law. This can include things like setting the county property tax rate, regulating land use, and deciding the county budget. Counties also operate public health centers, libraries, and school systems, all of which can affect our civil liberties.
Board of Education
Board of Education representatives can pass important policies to protect LGBTQ students from harassment, discrimination, and bullying. They can also fight back against book bans and attempts to restrict conversations about race, sexual orientation, and gender in the classroom.
The mayor presides over city council meetings and may have additional powers granted by the county government. This varies by county, so you should research your own mayor’s responsibilities, as well as the role of the city council. Mayors may play a role in hiring and overseeing the police chief in your city and may also make decisions such as when to declare a state of emergency or curfew can be imposed.
The county clerk runs the day-to-day operations of registration and voting in many states. They can be responsible for training election officials, counting election results, and mailing absentee ballots.The county clerk runs the day-to-day operations of registration and voting in many states. They can be responsible for training election officials, counting election results, and mailing absentee ballots.